Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Three Seasons

By Marjorie Baumgarten

JUNE 1, 1999: 

D: Tony Bui; with Don Duong, Nguyen Ngoc Hiep, Tran Manh Cuong, Harvey Keitel, Zoe Bui, Nguyen Huu Duoc. (PG-13, 108 min.)

Much has been made of this movie being the first American film shot in Vietnam since the war, and performed in Vietnamese by Vietnamese actors. For that it is to be commended. And to the extent that a film's visual beauty contributes to a work's overall value, Three Seasons is aces in this area. The camerawork by Lisa Rinzler (Trees Lounge, Menace II Society) is languorous and supple, moving in long, slow takes that are somewhat reminiscent of two other recent Vietnamese movies, Cyclo and The Scent of Green Papaya. Yet, apart from its beauty and novelty, Three Seasons has little to offer. Its interwoven stories of five separate characters are slight and blurrily developed. The movie's overriding theme concerns the new Vietnam's reconciliation with its past; Three Seasons appears to be in favor of such peacemaking. I would suggest that a good start might have been for the characters to refer to the film's location city as Ho Minh City rather than Saigon. The five characters whose stories we follow are Kien An (Hiep), a flower girl who tends lotus blossoms for a mysterious poet/landowner with leprosy, who chooses her to record his pent-up poems. Woody (Duoc), a street urchin in the neo-realist mode who spend the movie searching for his lost merchandise case; Hai (Duong), a cyclo driver who becomes obsessed with an unhappy prostitute whom he shuttles from job to job while neglecting his own work; Lan (Bui, no relation to the director), the prostitute who learns to accept demonstrations of love; and Hager (Keitel, who also is the film's executive producer), an ex-Marine 'n Vietnam to search for the child he fathered while in the military but has never known. Their stories intersect only tangentially and are furthered along by a great many coincidences. Three Seasons is the first feature film by writer-director Tony Bui, who was born in Vietnam but emigrated to the States with his family when he was two years old. This project is clearly a personal journey for the filmmaker, an attempt to explore his cross-cultural identity. Bui, however, seems unclear regarding what it is he wants to say about the experience. Still, the film is invested with so much lyrical beauty and exoticism that the film was a multi-award-winner at this year's Sundance Film Festival, soaking up awards bestowed by both judges and audience, an indication of the geniality and likability of Three Seasons.
2.5 stars

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